Omani ambassador discusses Free Trade Agreement

The first female ambassador from an Arab nation came to GW Thursday to speak about the benefits of a recent trade agreement between her country and the United States.

The Elliott School of International Affairs hosted more than 100 students, faculty and visiting members of the State Department when Omani Ambassador to the United States HuNaia Sultan Ahmed Al Mughairy discussed the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and the Sultanate of Oman.

The trade agreement, signed Sept. 23, ensures tariff and quota-free trade and has already made a positive impact on Oman’s economy, she said. In 2005, Omani exports to the United States increased 33 percent from the previous year, while American exports increased 80 percent, the ambassador said.

Despite the high percentage growth, the increase is not remarkable in terms of overall trade value. Instead, the ambassador was optimistic about what she perceives to be the “main purpose” of the FTA – a reduction of economic dependence on oil exports.

In an initiative entitled “Vision 2020,” Oman outlined its plan to reduce oil exports nearly fourfold. The FTA, Al Mughairy hopes, will achieve this goal by encouraging private American investment in her country’s economy.

Professor of Economics Robert Dunn said he is skeptical about the benefits of the FTA. Dunn wrote in an e-mail that the “availability of low wage labor and the existence of a free trade agreement could make Oman an attractive location for (American) firms.”

In a question-and-answer period following the lecture, an audience member asked the ambassador about the dangers of allowing such rapid globalization in a nation as small as Oman. Al Mughairy replied, “We want development, but not at the expense of our culture and traditions.”

It is a balancing act, but one Oman is excelling at, she said.

“We do modernize” the Ambassador told the audience, but “if you visit Oman you can see that people are (still) very traditional.”

The Elliott School selected Aisha Al Kharusi, a senior from Oman, to introduce Al Mughairy at the lecture. She said in an interview with The Hatchet that “the benefits (of the FTA) outweigh its slight costs.”

Al Kharusi pointed to the increased efficiency of Omani companies who compete with Western companies as well as the new job opportunities the FTA presents as evidence of her opinion.

With the 2006 ratification of the FTA Oman-which in 1833 was the first Arab nation to engage in trade with the United States-became the fifth Middle Eastern country to sign a formal Free Trade Agreement.

The ambassador said it is part of a larger, unofficial initiative aimed at establishing bilateral free trade between the United States and all Gulf Coast Countries by 2013. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are currently engaged in bilateral negotiations with the United States, the Ambassador said.

The initiative, however, is more difficult in application than in theory. An original plan that called for a multinational trade agreement with the United States was scrapped some time ago because of disparities regarding World Trade Organization membership.

“It’s getting more and more difficult to have free trade with the U.S.” Al Mughairy said. Regarding an American-Kuwaiti trade agreement, the ambassador said simply “It will not be easy.”

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